31 October 2013

Camera and Photo Fun

As you might remember I rented an Olympus OM-D EM-5 a while ago to figure out whether that could be a new camera for me. During the last vacation the desire for a smaller but still flexible and capable camera has come up and I started looking into alternatives for our Canon 40D kit that wouldn't weigh in at about 3kg as the Canon kit does.

The more I researched, the more I looked at my own photos, the more I realized that I'm not very good at framing shots and making them interesting. Andrea has a much better eye for that and I'd like to improve my own skills. After a bit (actually a lot) of reading, I decided that I should not give myself more, but rather less options. Less variables to worry about, less things to setup. My plan is to use a 50mm focal length equivalent lens as my main lens for a while. A standard. Something simple. Something to get used to and to learn how to use. I don't want to go to the full extreme of only using that one, but I'd say it should be for around 90% of my shots.

I started by getting a 35mm lens for our Canon DSLR (which means it is a 56mm equivalent on our Canon APS-C sensor camera) as I wanted to wait for the typical fall announcements from the big camera manufacturers before I decided on a new camera. 

Here are some example shots:

Custom bike trunk at IMS in San Mateo

Race at IMS San Mateo

I haven't had all too many opportunities to use the lens and to take a few more photos just yet, but they will come over time. It's a nice focal length and a fairly fast lens (max aperture is f2.0), so there will be plenty of opportunities going forward. 

To get some traction on this and more incentive for me, I also started a "50mm Fun Shared Photo Stream" (let me know if you want to participate) with iCloud Photo Streams where subscribers can comment on individual photos and also add their own ones as long as they are made with a roughly 50mm equivalent prime lens. It's a focal length you ought to have anyways in your kit, so here's your excuse to get one ... ;-)

Now, all that aside - I also decided on a smaller, lighter camera set for our travels and for me as my main camera going forward - read on.

The New Camera

After acknowledging my zooming inabilities and deciding on limiting myself to simple, straight forward photography, a few things became more clear. I came up with a check list for a new camera system, also keeping Andrea's wishes and our travel needs in mind:
  • Lightweight - the camera system should definitely be less than 1500g for the camera body, a standard zoom (for Andrea) and one or two prime lenses (definitely the 50mm equivalent mentioned above and either a wide angle or a longer lens).
  • Small size - the above kit should fit into a tank bag; the camera with one prime mounted + one other prime also should fit into my PacSafe hip bag.
  • I wanted to be able to fit camera and all camera related gear we normally take on trips into an inconspicuous small shoulder bag that wasn't too heavy. This should include a mini tripod (GorillaPod), the 50mm lens, a standard zoom, lens hoods, one or two filters, chargers, SD cards, ... I plain didn't want to walk around with a bag that said "Canon" or "Nikon" in big letters or just generally screamed "steal me, expensive camera gear inside". 
  • Easy to use - the camera should have the settings I actually use quite a lot (aperture priority, white balance, ISO, exposure compensation) readily available without digging into menus or trying to figure them out via settings on the back screen. 
  • Inconspicuous design so that people don't feel "threatened" when taking pictures publicly. The big Canon lets them jump out of the frame sometimes.
  • A view finder. I hate holding a camera at arms length into the general direction of my subject.
  • I didn't care for movie recording, "intelligent" scene programs, excessive HDR, or any other super fancy, new, and hip thingies. Simple was more important.
  • A selection of lenses that should be in the same league as our three Canon L lenses, preferably for a lower price. And I was looking whether a system had a consistent line of great lenses, not just a one or two here and there. 
  • Preferably from a manufacturer that has some reputation in the camera field and isn't changing direction or trends every year but instead shows a solid camera line up with some product strategy behind it.
  • Not too small sensor to be able to create a nice and shallow depth of field. I wasn't looking for full frame as it makes the camera much more expensive, the depth-of-field often too shallow with fast lenses in low light, the lenses more expensive and bigger in size and weight and the resulting files too big from excessive megapixel counts. Not that the gear head in me wouldn't love it, it's just that it doesn't make sense for me.
I had various contenders but most of them didn't do one or more points of the list above. Sony has a very weird lens line up for their e-mount, also changes strategies, names, ideas, design a bit too often for my taste. Canon doesn't really have anything in that range, the EOS M doesn't count as a serious attempt to get into the mirrorless market. Nikon has the Nikon 1, but the sensor is a bit too small for what I want to do and the lens line up doesn't have what I was looking for. Micro Four Thirds (M43) was super interesting but most cameras were either too fancy, or too simple, or ... just not exactly what I was looking for. 

The most promising contender for a while were the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1, both very modern and excellent M43 cameras with very compelling features. Combined, the two manufacturers have a large lens selection, although you'll have to piece things together by really cherry picking from each. In the end, the E-M1 was a bit too fancy and professional (and too expensive) and the GX7 just didn't excite me enough, can't really put a finger on the exact reason why. It just didn't move me.

So, after all that - I settled on the new Fuji X-E2

Fuji has build a very impressive system with their X cameras. The camera bodies follow the slightly retro style range finder design from Leica, but have very modern technology packed inside. They come with a unique APS-C sensor which gets praise pretty much everywhere, are designed for picture taking, not for the "spray and pray approach". The lens line up is great, everything I was looking for is covered, all the lenses have consistently high quality. All the other systems have great lenses, too, I just felt that I found the most consistent and compelling line up from Fuji

The new X-E2, which was introduced about two weeks ago, is very much just an X-E1 with a lot of details upgraded, updated, improved. Newer but very similar sensor, newer and faster processor, faster view finder, nicer display, optimized button layout, a solid upgrade, but not a totally new camera. No crazy design or strategy changes. Just consistent improvement. On top of that, Fuji continuously releases software updates for the existing cameras to add features and fix bugs - and they seem to be the only manufacturer that does this with some consistency even for two or three year old models. Very impressive behavior for a large corporation. But that's how you get a loyal customer base.

Unfortunately, the camera will only start hitting the market in mid November, which means I will likely not receive the one I ordered before early December. Bummer, but that's what it is. 

I will take photos with and of the new camera when it arrives ...

Here's what I already know:
  • Weight of the body + zoom + 35mm (52mm equivalent) is around 900g, so leaves some room for a second prime.
  • It's a medium sized camera. Larger than most M43, but not too large. I found that the X-E1 which has an identical body feels absolutely great in my hand and is still small enough to pack easily. 
  • It also fits in my PacSafe bag.
  • I found a nice camera bag - the "ONA | The Bowery", of course I will write more about that one when it arrives here. This will fit the camera plus one or two additional lenses and some small assorted stuff and doesn't scream "camera bag" from far away.
  • I immediately loved the feel of the X-E1 when using it in a store here. 
I ordered the X-E2 with the 35mm F1.4 lens and the (excellent) 18-55 F2.8-4 optically stabilized kit zoom (for Andrea). Don't confuse this kit zoom with the cheap plastic pieces from other manufacturers, it's a high quality lens. The 35mm will give me the ~52mm equivalent I want to continue with my "50mm Fun Stream".

Can't wait for it to arrive! 


  1. Guido:

    I too have been looking for an upgrade and I think we have parallel thinking. I nearly bought the 70d but my criteria must include; video and full articulating screen (for the video & self portraits) This only leaves the D5300, 70d or T5i, and the NEX-5T (in a pinch) but then the 70D only has 1080p30. The GX7 has it all except the articulating screen.

    Anyway the Fuji gets rave reviews everywhere. so enjoy it when it arrives. I just didn't want another system. I already have Nikon, Canon and some Sony E lenses. I was thinking like you, go simpler and just get the new Sony A7 as I have several prime Leica M and my other lenses will fit using adapters

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. It's interesting - I thought about the Sony A7, but when I thought about Sony and their line up, I was overall fairly underwhelmed. They built an incredible technical gadget that doesn't give me the feel of handling a camera. The gear head in me would absolutely love to have the A7 or A7R with the full frame sensor. The photographer (the little, inexperienced, incapable one) in me doesn't care for that camera at all.

      Of all the manufacturers, only Nikon, Olympus and Fuji meet my criteria of a product strategy for the mirrorless class I'm interested in. Sony follows their typical "spray and pray" approach with products, they release dozens of different products, differently feeling products, differently designed products, and just hope that one will be a success. Not what I'd call an approach I can identify with. Especially given my professional background with my current employer.

      The manufacturers I found most interesting in terms of strategy, flair, product line up, and commitment to any of the mirrorless classes were Olympus and Fuji.

      And, I don't have the desire for full frame anymore. For me, it has so many disadvantages, I plain didn't want a full frame as my only or my main camera. Too expensive, fast lenses are too heavy and big, files get too big, depth-of-field becomes too shallow with a 1.4 lens, and so on. Just too many downsides without any real (for my use case) benefit.

    2. Guido:

      I understand what you are saying about the Sony A7 but I already have Leica M lenses and a couple of Zeiss C/Y and a C/V. It would not be my intention to purchase ANY lenses, just the body. I also have a full set of Nikon Ai/AiS primes and zooms, and Pentax M42 SM. Plus I can use all my NEX lenses in CROP mode and I have several adapters already.

      I nearly bought the GX7 this week, but now I think I am going to check out your X-E2 I would rather have an APS-c than a 4/3rds sensor. Maybe I can live without the fully articulating screen.

      I already have the NEX-5N for two years now and with manual lenses it's hard to focus when you hold that camera at arms length in front.

      My second solution would be to buy the X-E2 to replace my T2i, and then buy the RX100M2 for my pocket camera. I saw some nice photos on the ADVrider thread

      thank you for doing all this ground work for me. When I was in the photo store last week, the first thing the salesperson asked me was if I wanted to see an X series Fuji . . .

      Riding the Wet Coast

    3. The articulating screen was something I really liked on the E-M5, but in the end, I'll use the view finder for 99% of the shots anyways, therefore it wasn't a big deal for me.

      With Sony, there just is something about there cameras that doesn't make me feel that I want one. I tried the NEX-6 and NEX-7 and the 7 wasn't too bad from the handling perspective, but somehow it still didn't move me.

      I'll certainly put more photos and more info up about the Fuji once I have it.

    4. Guido:

      here is a forum dedicated to Fuji X


      Riding the Wet Coast

  2. Interesting analysis to match your needs with what's currently available. I always look at the camera displays but it generally takes me years to make a "buy" decision as nothing seems to be a perfect fit. I'm looking forward to hearing whether the Fuji fits your needs.

    A viewfinder is an essential feature for any camera as framing on the viewfinder is a real hassle. And I always seem to want better low light performance. The newer cameras seem to do better than those made even a few years back.

    1. Yeah, I'm really waiting for the Fuji!

      Regarding low light: our Canon 40D is very decent up to ISO 400, but at 800 there is already noise that I won't like much in color photos. For daylight I generally prefer to keep it at ISO 100 or 200. The newer cameras like the Fuji have the same quality in noise at 3200 that my Canon has at 400. That is *eight* times more light sensitive!

  3. I am glad you found a camera that seems to meet all of your needs.

    I am looking forward to seeing some shots after it arrives. It will be hard for you to be patient I'm sure. Waiting for the new bike was good practice for you.

    1. It'll probably take a while until I actually get better at taking photos. But I can't wait using the Fuji to do so. I only need to stop ordering things that aren't in the stores yet. I'm really bad at waiting ...